4 lessons I learned from talking to my first potential customers and experts

I’ve spent the last two weeks talking to potential customers and experts in the field of ecommerce, marketing or big data. So far, I’ve met or talked to four potential customers and seven experts.

I’m not going to explain how I managed to talk to those persons in this post. This is for another day.

What I want to talk about today are the huge benefits that come from sharing your idea with others. Steve Blank mentioned this concept in Four Steps to the Epiphany:

No plan survives first contact with customers

And he is damn right.

It was actually the first time that I openly shared an idea to that many people. It felt counter-intuitive at the start. I almost felt naked.

If you think your idea is too precious to be shared with others, please think again. Your idea is very likely to be an hallucination rather than the start of next billion-dollar company. You need a sanity check.

I’m glad I went out of my comfort zone and talked to those people. Here is what I learned so far.

1) I talk(ed) too fast

First meeting with a fellow entrepreneur and first eye-opener.

I was gladly voicing out my idea and thought I was being understood. After 90 seconds or so, my interlocutor cut me right in the middle of sentence and said:

I’m sorry but you’re talking too fast and I can’t understand everything you are telling me.

Wow.

He then continued:

Because you are talking about something that is quite technical you need to make sure to be very clear when conveying your thoughts.

It was tough to hear, but I thanked him straight away for this great advice. I knew I could speak quite fast while being in a stressful situation but I didn’t know how much of an impact it could have.

Since this first meeting, I make sure to speak clearly and slowly. I also take the time to pause so my interlocutors can digest what is being said.

I talked to more than 10 people after that without any elocution issues.

2) Everybody said they LOVED my idea

…but it doesn’t mean much.

I read it many times before but it was the first time I experienced it myself. Every single person I met mentioned at least once that my idea was a great one.

It’s easy to feel content with this kind of observations and feel like you are on the right track because somebody said so. The truth is, people don’t want to hurt you. Even if they think that your idea is a bad one.

Make sure to not fish for compliments by asking: “Do you think it is a good idea?” or “Would you buy it?”.

Instead, focus on facts and ask questions such as: “What is your biggest challenge in X?” (X being the area your product is solving) or “Talk me through the last time you did Y?” (Y being the solution they currently use to solve their problem).

3) I need a vision

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Something else came up when talking to another entrepreneur: I was explaining the solution as I saw it but wasn’t selling the dream. The real big dream.

He first asked me a great question that, he said, a lot of investors would ask:

If you had all the money in the World, would you still start this company?

Answering this question could seem easy, but I didn’t know what to answer.

I think I came up with something like this:

Yes I think I would. I would also spend a lot of money helping charities. And, eh, yeah that’s it.

It could have been better, right?

The real aim of this question is to understand your motivation beyond money. What is driving you beyond getting wealthy? When the s*** hits the fan, are you just going to quit or are you going to keep going? And if yes, why?

This is linked to your venture’s vision.

After this meeting, I’ve started to think about it. A lot.

In fact, I love making data talk and helping others to gain insights from it. As soon as I started my professional career I focused a lot on creating reports and dashboards to make pieces of information more digestible for my colleagues and managers.

I often imagine a world where marketers don’t have to go through the long process of gathering data, creating reports on Excel and trying to extract insights that are already outdated.

In fact, I imagine a world where reports and dashboards are things of the past, being replaced by real-time softwares running in autopilot and taking decisions on their own. As Peter Levine mentioned in this post, it will be like having an intelligent, experienced human assistant in everything we do.

Marketers can then focus on what matters: creating strategies, talking to users etc…

4) People come up with words you never thought about before

A rather strange thing happened when I was chatting about this project. Each person tried to define what I was saying with their own words.

People like to function by analogy and will tend to compare you or your project with somebody or something they know. This is a fantastic thing.

For example, I was trying to explain to a big data expert how my solution would automatically decide what to send to each customer without building a complex branching flow. He simply said:

Oh that sounds like what’s called the next best action in marketing.

Well, I never heard the term before but it made perfect sense as soon as I heard it.

You know what they say:

If you can’t explain simply, you don’t understand it.

Talking to customers definitely helps!

I’d like to hear about your own experience. What did you learn from talking to customers or experts about your project(s)?